Sports News: Sault Ste. Marie, Canada & International Headlines | Sault This Week
Coach-GM Kyle Brick will return to NOJHL Beavers for a sixth season
Brick building will continue on the Beaver dam. The most productive coach in franchise history is returning to the Blind River Beavers of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League for a sixth season, Sault This Week has confirmed. Kyle Brick, who will turn 35 later this month, has re-upped with the Beavers as coach and general manager for the 2021-2022 season as per team president Robert Morningstar. Morningstar had much good to say about Brick and the job that he has done at the helm of the Beavers. “At the beginning of his first contract (in 2016) the Beavers were looking for a local coach with experience, drive and dedication to develop a top-level team. “The Board of Directors are extremely satisfied and pleased with Kyle’s performance and will continue to work together to develop that championship team that we are striving for … and we remain confident that we will get there. “Having said that, moving forward we have to remember and keep in mind that hockey is for the players and it is our job to develop them so that they can get to that next level,” Morningstar told Sault This Week. Morningstar also reflected on the abbreviated 2020-2021 NOJHL season that was affected by COVID-19 and Ontario government and public health unit shutdowns. “With support and guidance of the NOJHL and its return to play policy we were able to provide the sport of hockey to the north. I strongly believe that during these difficult times we have stuck together to bring hockey to our Blind River community. “Hockey is part of our culture and will always be,” added Morningstar, noting he feels positive about a more normal return of hockey for the 2021-2022 season. As for Brick, who hails from the nearby, north shore town of Thessalon — which is about 35 miles west of Blind River and 50 miles east of Sault Ste. Marie — he told Sault This Week he is “happy to be returning to the Beavers. “We have a good group of players coming back who we want to continue to develop,” he began, adding, “My time here in Blind River has been great … We have been able to turn around a program and become a contender year after year, not only in the division but in the league as well. “The best part is I get to do it with my best friends as assistant coaches, Craig MacDonald and Dylan King. And we’ve also been able to add great people in (assistant coach) Jamie Disano, (trainer) Derrick Bates and (equipment manager) Spencer Lawrence,” pointed out Brick. “We are still chasing that elusive league championship but I feel we are getting closer and closer. The board of directors and community of Blind River have been nothing but supportive and I can’t be more thankful. This team gave me a shot and I intend to win here; that’s the goal. I can’t wait to get started next season,” Brick relayed. Prior to the 2020-2021 campaign in which the Beavers posted a 9-11-1 record in 21 games — 17 of which were against the Soo Thunderbirds — Blind River had nothing but winning seasons since Brick arrived in Blind River in 2016, posting successive records of 32-20-4, 33-19-4, 25-24-7 and a franchise-best 37-15-4 in 2019-2020. By comparison, in the four seasons before Brick and Co. came on board in Blind River, the Beavers won only 33 of 212 games. To be sure, there is a Brick foundation when it comes to the NOJHL in Blind River.
Northern boys are plentiful on teams in NOJHL
Teams in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League are able to recruit players from all over Canada, not to mention the United States. But homegrown players from Northern Ontario remain popular among NOJHL teams. Of particular note, four teams that saw action in the NOJHL’s West Division during the abbreviated 2020-2021 NOJHL season — Rayside Balfour Canadians, Soo Thunderbirds, Espanola Express and Blind River Beavers — paid particular attention to Northern Ontario and combined to have 50 players from the north who were on active rosters when the 2020-2021 campaign came to a close. Add in another 20 or so Northern Ontario products who suited up for the other five NOJHL teams that were active in 2020-2021 — Cochrane Crunch, Timmins Rock, Hearst Lumberjacks, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and French River Rapids — and the league was home to more than 70 players from towns such as Blind River, Chelmsford, Dowling, Garson, Hanmer, Iroquois Falls, Little Current, Lively, Marathon, Massey, Moose Factory, Nipigon, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thessalon, Thunder Bay, Timmins et al. Rayside Balfour led the way by having 18 Northern Ontario boys; the Soo was close behind with 15, followed by Espanola with 10 and Blind River with eight. And of the 70 or so northern lads who saw action for the nine teams that were active in 2020-2021, the majority of them are eligible to return to the NOJHL come the 2021-2022 season as players born in either 2001, 2002, 2003 or 2004. The list of potential high-end returnees not only bodes well for the NOJHL and the various teams but accentuates the fact that Northern Ontario continues to produce its share of junior level players who seemingly have the talent and ability to advance to higher stages of the game at some point. Looking ahead at just a sampling of the top players from the north who could well be back in the NOJHL in 2021-2022, the list is an impressive one. Indeed, it is a register that includes forwards Gavin Brown, Owen Perala and Mitchell Martin, defencemen Chris Innes and Graeme Siren and goalie Jake Marois of Rayside Balfour; forwards Michael Chaffay, Tyson Doucette, Kurtis Rogers, Brock Santa Maria, Cooper Smyl and Ty Zachary and defenceman Cameron Dutkiewicz of the Soo; forwards Bradley Brunet, Cole Delarosbil, Devon Savignac and Cameron Walker and defencemen A.J. Favot and Jordan Ritchie of Espanola; forward Nick Jameus, defenceman Mason Chitaroni and goalie Gavin Disano of Blind River; forwards Harry Clark, Landon Deforge and Pierre Racicot of Timmins; forwards Kobe Barrette and Matthew Hill and defenceman Keaston Blais of Cochrane. Then there is a fleet of grassroots talent from the Great North Under 18 Hockey League that is poised to move up to any of a number of NOJHL teams come the 2021-2022 campaign. To be sure — and as they should — NOJHL coaches and managers will continue to scout and scour rinks from across Canada and the U.S. in their search for talent. Meanwhile, there is a lot of said talent to choose from in the rinks of Northern Ontario.
Brantford's iconic OHL history includes Batchewana winger turned famed landmark lawyer Gary Corbiere
They were here for a good time, not a long time. To be sure, their history is one of modest length yet the Brantford Alexanders remain an iconic Ontario Hockey League franchise mainly because of the number of high performance players who wore their red-white-and-black jersey from 1978 to 1984. Initially the Hamilton Red Wings, then the Hamilton Fincups and St. Catharines Fincups, the franchise moved to Brantford in 1978 only to return to Hamilton in 1984 to become the Steelhawks. From there it became the Niagara Falls Thunder before another relocation of the franchise resulted in what are now the Erie Otters. Meanwhile, even though the OHL was never a big hit in Brantford, where the Alexanders drew average crowds in the 1,500 range, alumni representing the erstwhile the A’s reads like a virtual Who’s who. Consider the lengthy list of Alexanders alumni who made an impact in the OHL and then went on to play in the National Hockey League — goalies Allan Bester and Rick Wamsley, defencemen Mike Lalor, Randy Ladouceur, Ric Nattress, Bruce Bell, Mark Botell and Tony Curtale and forwards Mike Bullard, Shayne Corson, Dave Gagner, Dave Hannan, Mark Hunter, Bob Probert, Greg Terrion, Perry Anderson, Kevin LaVallee, Jason Lafreniere, Jeff Jackson, Len Hachborn, Paul Marshall, Darryl Evans, Mike Hoffman, Mike Millar et al. And the list of high end players who skated in Brantford who may not have become NHLers but do have a history as memorable Alexanders is just as impressive — goalie Rick Pikul, defencemen Grant Anderson, Tom Searle, Tom Della Maestra, Dave Robson, John Meulenbroeks, Rob Moffat and Tyler Verhaeghe and forwards Todd Francis, Rick Goodfellow, Chris Kurysh, Ron Leef, Terry Maki, Rick Pickersgill, Arthur Rutland, Scott Vanderburgh et al. Notably, from a Sault Ste. Marie standpoint, the Alexanders have a strong link to the Sault via a number of the above mentioned players. Of those, Terry Maki is a Sault boy while Dave Hannan, Bob Probert, Bruce Bell, Dave Robson and Arthur Rutland (who hails from Wawa) all played for the Greyhounds before or after they suited up for Brantford. The Alexanders never won an OHL championship — nor did they ever make it to the league finals — but they had some success under coach-general manager Dave Draper. Three times the Alexanders hooked up in memorable playoff series with the powerhouse Soo Greyhounds only to lose all three times — including a seven-game affair in 1981-1982. Meanwhile, and again on a Sault Ste. Marie note, it says here that, pound for pound, the toughest player to ever wear a Brantford Alexanders uniform was left winger Gary Corbiere. Standing in at 5-foot-10 and tipping the scales at 175 pounds, the hard-nosed Corbiere played in 85 games for Brantford after being acquired in a trade with the Sudbury Wolves for fellow forward Dean DeFazio. As much as he made an impact as a feisty, fearless youngster who improbably made the OHL despite not being drafted, Corbiere went on to make a further name for himself beyond hockey. Hailing from Batchewana First Nation just outside Sault Ste. Marie, Corbiere would go on to become a famed lawyer before he tragically drowned in Lake Simcoe on Aug. 8, 2004 at age 41 while out on his boat. He had a cottage on Georgina Island and traveled frequently to the mainland to work in Toronto. Corbiere was the lawyer who successfully argued in the Supreme Court of Canada for the right of off-reserve, First Nation peoples to have a substantial say in the decisions made on their reserve. The legendary, landmark case in constitutional law became known as the Corbiere Decision. Members of Gary’s family still reside in the Sault Ste. Marie area. His dad, John (Duke) Corbiere, once served as chief of Batchewana First Nation of Ojibways.
Beavers look to make another splash next season as two Sault boys commit
A normal regular season in the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League is 56 games for each of its teams. Well, in what was an abnormal, offbeat 2020-2021 season relative to COVID-19, it nonetheless — for example — led to the Blind River Beavers being able to play 21 games against two cohort opponents. When the abbreviated 2020-2021 season wound down at the end of March, Blind River was one of just four teams still playing. And of the nine NOJHL teams that saw action over the course of a regular season that did not begin until Nov. 13, only the Timmins Rock played more games than Blind River — and it was just one more at that. Despite the limited schedule and the fact that Blind River had to play 17 of its 21 games against the Soo Thunderbirds — the other four were versus the Rayside Balfour Canadians — Beavers coach and general manager Kyle Brick came away with a mostly positive outlook from the 2020-2021 season. “To be honest, as a team, we were just happy to be playing when so many other teams and leagues weren’t,” the soon to be 35-year-old Brick relayed to Sault This Week. “And while it was unfortunate that we had to play the Thunderbirds so many times, it added even more fuel to the rivalry.” Blind River came away with a record of 7-9-1 from its 17 games with the Soo and had a 2-2-0 mark in four outings against Rayside Balfour. Brick and his coaching staff held exit meetings with their players following the end of the 2020-2021 campaign and of the dozen who are eligible to return next season, Brick said he expects to have “between eight and 10 of them” back for the 2021-2022 term. Among those who gave Brick a firm commitment to return to Blind River for next season are two Sault Ste. Marie products — 2002-birth-year center Nick Jameus and 2003-birth-year goalie Gavin Disano. The 5-foot-8, 160-pound Jameus was a reliable performer for the Beavers through the 18 games he played in 2020-2021. Used mainly as a shutdown forward, Jameus came through with one goal, eight assists, nine points. “I expect Nick can come in and be our No. 1 center next season,” Brick said of Jameus. “He is a good kid and there is no question of his skill level and ability.” Meanwhile, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Disano faced a slew of shots in becoming a workhorse between the pipes for Blind River and becoming its No. 1 goalie as a rookie. Signed by the Beavers prior to the start of the 2020-2021 NOJHL season after a year with the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League, the 17-year-old Disano was originally brought into Blind River to be the backup to 19-year-old veteran Wyatt Courchaine. But Disano eventually supplanted Courchaine as the starter and ended up with a 6-4-1 record while Courchaine had a 3-7-0 mark. Disano’s 6-4-1 record, .891 save percentage and goals against average of 4.53 do not tell the whole tale of what the young goalie faced in the Beavers net. That is, in 689 minutes of action, Disano faced a whopping 478 shots, which, tallies up to a per game average of almost 42 shots per 60 minutes. Plus, Blind River played the last seven games of the season with just two regular defenceman due to injuries and suspensions. And Brick, as the coach and GM, welcomes the return of Disano as the Beavers projected starter for next season. “He is a quiet kid, a really good kid who doesn’t say much. There are a lot of qualities that Gavin has that really stand out,” Brick told Sault This Week. “His preparation, approach and focus during practices and games are off the charts.” As for what lies ahead, Brick said he has already started recruiting players to play in Blind River next season. (And for the second year in a row, he will put together a summer team that will play in tournaments in southern Ontario.) “I have been making some phone calls and watching some video regarding players who could help us next season. It is kind of tricky right now because we don’t know what lies ahead … will there be body contact when we return to play next season and will the (Canada-United States) border be open are questions that, right now, we don’t know the answers to,” Brick pointed out. Still, Brick heads up a program that has made Blind River a destination of good choice for Canadian and American players alike since he took over as the Beavers hockey boss in 2016 — with thanks to assistance from the likes of his top recruiter Craig MacDonald and assistant coaches such as Dylan King and Jamie Disano. “We have been able to create a good hockey atmosphere in a great little town like Blind River,” Brick relayed. “At the end of the day, your best recruiters are the ones who have played here before.” As for eligible returnees who may not want to return to Blind River next season, the affable Brick noted, “Come the summer, we will make any deal that makes sense to trade any player who would like to play somewhere else, whether it is in the NOJHL or another junior A league.” In closing the book on the unprecedented, abbreviated, 2020-2021 season and the Beavers record of 9-11-1, Brick noted that “I wasn’t happy with our record … but it will be better next year.” Prior to the 2020-2021 campaign, the Beavers had nothing but winning seasons since Brick arrived in Blind River in 2016, posting successive records of 32-20-4, 33-19-4, 25-24-7 and a franchise-best 37-15-4 in 2019-2020. By comparison, in the four seasons before Brick came on board in Blind River, the Beavers won only 33 of 212 games.
RIP, TONY CELLI ... KUDOS TO JACK MATIER ... '79-85 GREYHOUNDS
There are many in Sault Ste. Marie who could wear the unofficial title of ‘Mr. Soccer.’ Names that quickly spring to mind include some who have passed on and some who are still with us. Names such as Joe Kin Sr., Milo Filipcic, Pipa Saric, Tom McGunnigle, Cor Van Rooy, Oreste Hryniewicz, Joe Tomas, Barry Fera, Mike Jurko, George Dvorak, Dennis Maninos, Angelo Gaccione, Clive Wilkinson and Ian MacKenzie are all worthy of a Mr. Soccer moniker. Then there is Tony Celli, a personable — yet, in his own way, quiet — gentleman who became another face for soccer in Sault Ste. Marie as a player, coach, executive and mentor. Tony passed away recently at the age of 82, leaving behind a loving family of a wife, kids, grandkids and many others. He also left behind a soccer family and a lasting legacy in the game that he first came to love as a youngster in his native Italy. A passionate promoter of soccer, Tony did not wait for the local media to come looking for a story. Rather, he was known for calling members of the media at home with story ideas on an upcoming soccer tournament or event. He was always pleasant, always polite, always happy in any and all dealings that I ever had with him over the years. And I use the word “always” because I cannot recall a time when Tony was anything but pleasant, polite, happy and thankful. To be sure, there are many who can deservedly, without asking, wear the title of Mr. Soccer in Sault Ste. Marie. And right up there with the best of them is the late Mr. Tony Celli. Rest in peace, good person. ••• WORLD CLASS JACK He has been chosen to play on the world hockey stage. Sault Ste. Marie product Jack Matier is slated to skate for Team Canada at this month’s 2021 International Ice Hockey Federation under-18 world championship tournament. The world-class event is slated for an 11-day period beginning on April 26, with games to be played in the Dallas, Tex. area. A 2003-birth-year, right-handed shooting defenceman, Matier is a member of the Ottawa 67’s. The likeable lad was Ottawa’s first round pick, 21st overall, at the 2019 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft. Soo Greyhounds, with the 18th pick of the first round of that 2019 OHL draft, had a chance to take the homegrown Matier but instead opted for another defenceman in Jacob Holmes. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Matier appeared in 56 games for the 67’s as a rookie during the 2019-2020 OHL season and had nine points from his blue line post with a plus-minus rating of +11. Prior to that, Matier developed under coach Jamie Henderson with the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under-18 Hockey League. He is a son of Mark Matier, who was a defenceman for the 1993 Memorial Cup champion Soo Greyhounds. ••• HOUNDS REUNION Friends of Terry Crisp and Sam McMaster plan a Soo Greyhounds reunion for Saturday, July 17 of this year. The reunion is for those who had an association with the OHL team from 1979 to 1985. Crisp coached the Greyhounds from 1979 to 1985. McMaster worked alongside Crisp as the Greyhounds general manager from 1980 to 1985. Hugh Larkin, who played for the Greyhounds as a right winger from 1979 to 1982 before being traded to the Sudbury Wolves, is organizing the event. “We have rooms blocked in two nice (Sault Ste. Marie) hotels for a limited time,” Larkin relayed to me. “There is a golf outing and a banquet in the planning stages which are both to be held on July the 17th. A banquet room and a menu are reserved. “If you would like to attend this event, please reserve a hotel room or rooms. Bring your wife, girlfriend or other family members. You can cancel your hotel rooms at no cost to you one week before the event. “The only thing which will stop this reunion will be Ontario government COVID-19 rules or a closed Canadian/United States border. Terry and Sam have both agreed to attend the reunion with their wives. Both Terry and Sam and spouses are all fully vaccinated. Terry and Sam live in the USA. “Many people will say to hold the reunion next year. I have my own personal reasons to see this go through now. If life stops our reunion, I will attempt this again in July 2022,” summed up Larkin. Contact Larkin via firstname.lastname@example.org for hotel reservation information.
weather (Sault Ste. Marie)
Ottawa BlackJacks draft three U Sports players, including Laurier star guard Ali Sow
The Ottawa BlackJacks took two basketball players with local connections in the Canadian Elite Basketball League U Sports Draft Wednesday, grabbing Ali Sow of the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks (fourth overall), Guillaume Pepin of the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees (11th) and Graddy Kanku of the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks (18th).
Positive tests for COVID-19 put Calgary curling bubble on brink of bursting
Shortly after Canada was surprisingly eliminated from the world men’s curling championship on Friday night, the focus in the Calgary bubble switched to a deeply concerning situation that threatened the continuation of the tournament.